BINGHAMTON – Corey Mullaly admitted it, that the frustration was difficult to cope with after another sparkling Our Lady of Lourdes season ended in heartbreak on the final day.
A silver medal adorning his neck and the state Class A boys basketball runner-up plaque in clutch, the senior said he was at first hesitant to accept those consolation ornaments. It’s painful, having done so twice.
“In the moment, it’s hard to appreciate it,” said Mullaly, who also starred for the Lourdes football team that lost a state final in 2015. “To finish second in the state means you accomplished a lot, and there’s a lot of wins in that. But it hurts right now.”
It will for a while. But, in time, there will come perspective and an appreciation of the accomplishment. He knows that as well as anyone.
This already had been the most successful season in program history. Never had Lourdes gone beyond the regional semifinals, but this group brought the team — and Dutchess County — to the precipice of its goal.
But the Warriors’ historic run came to end on Sunday as Lourdes fell to Section 5’s Irondequoit, 54-43, in the Class A state final at Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena.
“We got here,” senior James Anozie said. “We wished he had won, of course, but we got here. And we put everything we had into this game. We leave the floor knowing we put everything into this season.”
Lourdes, as a fifth seed, pulled a series of upsets in the playoffs to capture their first Section 1 championship since 2013, and earned wins over hometown rival Poughkeepsie in the regional final, then topped Long Island champion Southampton in the state Class A semifinals on Saturday.
“We’re all pretty emotional right now,” Warriors coach Jim Santoro said. “But my emotions aren’t of sadness. It was joy at what they accomplished this year, thinking back to what we were in October.”
Heck, as recently as three weeks ago, few would have dared predict Lourdes still would be playing on this date. The Warriors gave the region reason to believe they could become only the third boys basketball team from Dutchess County to win a state title, and the first since Millbrook in 1999.
That is why their fans, as that runner-up plaque was presented, serenaded the team with cheers loud enough to rival those of the roaring Irondequoit crowd.
“I heard it,” Anozie said. “It’s a blessing to get that kind of support. It’s good to know they appreciated what we’ve done.”
Anozie had 18 points, five rebounds and a block for the Warriors (20-7). Freshman Aidan Hilderbrand added 11 points, three assists and three rebounds, and Kevin Townes had eight points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Brady Hilderbrand, a junior, had six points, four rebounds and two assists.
“It’s something that most players don’t get to experience,” Mullaly said of reaching the final. “I’ve been to two state finals and both times it was the first in school history. It’s a great accomplishment. Both times, we went far beyond expectations.”
The teams went back and forth in the third quarter, but Irondequoit’s Ty’sean Sizer hit a short floater with 33 seconds left in the period to put the Eagles ahead for good, 37-35. Irondequoit opened the fourth with a surge and Sizer’s right-corner three gave them a 44-36 lead with 5:21 remaining.
Sizer’s free throws pushed the lead to 48-40 with 1:46 left. Lourdes still had life with a minute remaining, down 49-43, but Townes was whistled for a foul on what initially appeared to be a steal. The Eagles’ subsequent free throws iced the contest.
Sizer, who was named tournament MVP, scored 21 points and fit five three-pointers to lead the Eagles (25-1).
Irondequoit packed the paint, was physical and threw constant double teams at the 6-foot-5 Anozie. The Warriors at times seemed insistent on forcing the ball to him in the post, which contributed to 16 turnovers.
“We had a hard time getting the ball to James and that’s a credit to them,” Santoro said of his center, who was 8 for 12 from the field. “We had some good looks from the outside but didn’t convert down the stretch.”
There also were a number of debatable calls and non-calls that went against Lourdes, including some of the hits that Anozie absorbed in the post. This, of course, drew the ire of several Warriors fans who derided the officials during the fourth quarter.
“They got more calls than us, but that’s not why we lost,” Anozie said. “They were a better team than us today.”
Aidan Hilderbrand scored nine points and Townes had eight in the first half, which allowed Lourdes to enter intermission trailing only 25-23. Anozie’s free throw pulled the Warriors within 37-36 a few seconds into the fourth, but Alex Goldsberry answered immediately, sinking a layup after a spin move near the baseline. That started a 7-0 spurt for Irondequoit, capped by Sizer’s three with 5:47 remaining.
Lourdes will graduate six seniors, but only two starters. Granted, Townes and Anozie aren’t easily replaced. Still, Santoro said, there should be optimism for the future. Aidan Hilderbrand, a hero in the state semifinal, will be among the building blocks.
“This isn’t the end of our basketball lives, for the seniors or the program,” said Santoro, a head coach at Lourdes for 28 years. “This season was a big step, getting to this stage. This team grew and developed so much from October. How can I not be happy about that?”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4